It has been 10 years since William Thomas Ellerbrock, age nine-and-a-half weeks, was dropped off for his second day of daycare and put down for a nap.
It has been 10 years since baby William never woke up.
It has been 10 years, but not a day goes by that his parents – Matthew and Chrystal Ellerbrock – don’t think about William or work to educate others about how to put babies safely to sleep on their backs. How to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). How to make sure no other family has to go through what they’ve been through.
“I miss my son. I miss what he may have become. I miss seeing him grow and do all the things my other children have been able to do. However, I no longer feel any anger, there is no confusion. Just the loss of the love I had for a little boy who came into my world and completely made me a liar. I told everyone who asked…. ‘I don’t care if its a boy or girl, I just want a healthy baby.’ Now of course we all want healthy babies, but when William was born and I realized I had a son to raise, to teach, to play nerf guns with, to watch Star Wars with, to (possibly) play rugby with…. The toughest memory of July 14, 2009 that still lingers with me today was leaving the hospital after there was nothing left for us to do. My dad drove us home so I could sit in back and hold onto Crystal. For us to fit in the car with Bella, we had to put William’s car seat in the back storage area of the vehicle. It hit me square in the head that at that moment, we left the hospital as a family, and we were not taking him home with us. God Bless my father for driving. I don’t think he said a word, but in that terribly vivid moment of how huge the loss was, we were given the ability to support each other in that moment.”
It was to First Candle that Ellerbrock and his wife turned when their son died to help them handle their overwhelming sense of loss. They’ve been committed to raising money and SIDS awareness for the organization ever since.
First Candle also provides bereavement support for grieving families, and they were there to help Matthew and his wife handle their overwhelming sense of loss 10 years ago. Over the years, the couple has stayed closely connected with the organization, raising money on their behalf until ultimately they launched their own organization, the William T. Ellerbrock SIDS Foundation, to raise awareness around safe sleep for families in Northwest Ohio.
Through a partnership with a local hospital, they distribute onesies purchased from First Candle that prompt caregivers with safe sleep messages. Printed on the front of the onesie are the ABCs of Safe Sleep: put the baby to sleep Alone, on his or her Back, in a Crib with a firm mattress and tight-fitting sheet. On the back of the onesie is another prompt: “If you can read this, flip me over.”
The Foundation has purchased nearly 7,000 of these onesies over the past 10 years, so that new babies in northwest Ohio can each go with home with one, said Ellerbrock. “When parents leave the baby with a babysitter or Grandma or Grandpa, they put this on them,” he said. “You tell the caregivers about the importance of placing the baby on his back to sleep, but then you put the baby in this and everybody gets to learn that way.”
That’s not the only way the Ellerbrocks have been sharing this message. Their son’s foundation has purchased billboards, held fundraisers such as golfing events and softball tournaments, and built a nursery at a children’s museum that includes safe sleep messages and dolls for children to play with.
Running the NYC Marathon, said Ellerbrock, was just one more way to support First Candle and spread the word about how to put babies to sleep safely. But that’s not all it does.
“When we do this type of fundraising, my family and my wife’s family, we all get together. My mother helps cook. If a sibling can’t make it, someone will donate a couple cases of Gatorade or write a check. And nobody has ever asked, ‘Why do you keep doing this?’ It’s been 10 years. But the truth is, you don’t want him to be forgotten. You want to keep him part of your life.” Help Matthew reach his goal of raising $3,000 – donate here.
First Candle is a 501 (c)(3) committed to ending Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and other sleep-related infant deaths while providing bereavement support services for families who have lost a baby. Your donation will help support our bereavement program.